Connecting to the World Around
TANYSHA BOLGER – MARCH 25, 2014
Born in Bavaria, Germany, Elena Helfrecht is a drawer turned photographer, mostly focusing on constructing thought provoking images that captures the mind’s imagination. Developing a passion for art in her early childhood, she began drawing and learning composition and various other techniques. Now, using a camera rather than a pencil, she is completely self-taught and has attained most of her knowledge through working out in the field and experimenting with what she creates.
So tell us a little about yourself and how you wound up with a camera in your hand..
It all started with the old digital camera my dad gave me. At first I photographed nature a lot, I went outside with it and I was always in search of new things to capture. Eventually I learned to go further and I experimented with myself as a model. It was difficult at first, but with time I learned how to edit a picture so I liked myself in it. I also started to stage all the images in my head and plan them out that way. However I don’t need to edit myself much any more, I think all the self-portraits has helped me accept myself.
You come from a background of drawing but then transitioned into photography. What caused the ‘medium’ change and if so, how do you incorporate the skills you learnt drawing into photography?
To be honest I never made the conscious decision to change the medium. Somehow it simply happened. Photography is nearer to me and it is easier to express my emotions with it because I can capture reality as it is but then change it to fit into my thoughts. I stopped drawing because of a lack of time, I could only focus on one of both: Photography won.
From drawing I learned a lot about composition, colours and anatomy for my surreal manipulations. I think this was a great help.
The work that you create is startlingly dark but at the same time hauntingly beautiful. What is your planning process for the series of images that you create?
The planning process is really varied. Sometimes I have one idea in my head for ages and I plan really carefully; looking for the perfect location, the perfect light and maybe the perfect model. In other cases my photographs are very spontaneous and out of pure emotion. When I feel extreme emotions like sadness, fear, depression or anger, I sometimes simply grab the camera and do something. The same goes with images I randomly see and like. I am a very observing person and I notice a lot of details, for example the veins on the hand of a friend. By then I also simply take my camera and make a photograph. My eyes are always open and I really enjoy the little beautiful things in life.
“Looking For A Soul” and “The Unborn” are interesting images, tell us a little about your ideas behind both and what went through your mind when creating them..
“Looking for a soul” is quite an old picture and born out of deep despair. I really struggle with all kind of philosophical thoughts. Science can’t give an answer to that. I always wonder what defines us and our character, why we do what we do and why we think what we think. What happens to us if we die, will the energy that keeps our little bodies running keep consciousness? Sometimes I become very desperate about thoughts like that and often they result in panic attacks if I think to much of it.
With “Looking For a Soul” I treated exactly this thought. Eyes are for me the most important connection to the world. I am incredibly dependent on my visual senses. I wonder if you can see one’s soul through his eyes. If you can somehow notice it, for me it has to be through the eyes. This is just a shot trying to capture my own soul.
“The Unborn” is also a quite depressive picture. The model for it was my boyfriend. With all the unbearable thoughts always running through my head I sometimes really wish to stop existing or simply stop thinking. This is my way of visualizing it. All the thoughts around the model can’t find a way into his head because he doesn’t really live. What happens to the dreams if the dreamer dies?
This is are just my personal intentions for the pictures – it is not the only reality. I always fear destroying the beholder’s thoughts with telling my aim in a picture. I value the many different perspectives in art. This is just my personal reality, I enjoy people who see something different in my pictures and who identify other emotions with them.
In each interview we do, we notice that photographers mostly use the medium to express certain elements of themselves that they simply cannot do in the real world. Is that true for you as well, and if so, what do you think hinders you from expressing it in the real world?
Art for me is also a way to express things in the real world. All the feelings I have need to go somewhere so they don’t eat me up. It is a constant need from deep out of my heart. I don’t know what would happen if I stop doing art. Some thoughts and strong emotions have bothered me since I was a little child and I already drew when I was barely able to hold a pencil.
With my pictures I visualize what is inside of me. There is not one reality but many. My photographs show my personal reality, my emotions and feelings. If I transform something into a picture it stops taking so much space of my brain and sometimes even leaves me alone for some precious time.
Imagination captures people from all walks of life; it can be expressed through stories, paintings, songs and photographs. How do you find inspiration for your images and how do you improve on your ideas?
As an art historian, which is what I study, I always consume art. I read a lot and visit many different exhibitions. I think I have many influences and I adore art since kindergarten. I find inspiration in art history as well as in myself. Images simply pop in my head. I improve my ideas by asking dear friends for feedback. I have some precious friends I can show every photo to before I publish it. Sometimes they see things I didn’t really notice. I am in a constant learning process and experiment a lot.
You also seem to dabble in street photography, monochrome style. What do you enjoy most about that, and to you, what makes a perfect street photograph?
Street photography results from my deep fascination with human beings. We can be so caring, so loving and thoughtful and yet cruel and destructive. I love just sitting somewhere and observing people, making up stories, immerse in someone else’s life for a short time. The perfect street photograph is born out of situation. As a photographer you simply need the ability to close the shutter at the right time – and luck.
“Abandoned” is a unique set of photographs. What draws you into photographing abandoned places and houses?
“Abandoned” is the first time I tried photographing in places like this. My own imagination drives me to places like this. It is a bit the same reason as in street photography: I love making up stories. Lost places often have a strange and very strong energy. The atmosphere is full of tension and you can’t stop wondering what happened at this place, who lived there. History.
You can view more of Elena Helfrecht’s work on her website or Facebook page by visiting the links below.